It is hard to watch the news or read a popular science book without getting the sense that there is a constant tension between faith and reason. Nonreligious scientists commonly couch “intelligence” as “the favoring of reason in place of faith.” Nowadays, a minority of scientists call themselves religious. Before other scientists take them seriously, they must disavow faith for the sake of truth. In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins states, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” I think his philosophical empiricism is dangerous, but it is not unique. The vast majority of scientists call themselves Empiricists. But for now, I am more interested in Dawkins’ definition of Faith.
After considering Dawkin’s argument, several questions emerge: What is faith? Does faith weaken reason? Is reason more reasonable as it tries to overcome faith? Can reason be divorced from faith? Is Religion escapable, or are all men religious beings?
In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal states, ”The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” The French philosopher believed that Faith comes from the “reasons of the heart.” As a Christian, I appreciate Pascal’s terminology. Faith is much more than mere belief. However, for charity’s sake, I will grant a looser definition that Dawkins might accept. According to those who deride it, “Faith” is a belief in the unknown, uncertain, or (as Empiricists claim) “unprovable.” This is why scientists pledge to avoid “Faith.” Since objects of faith cannot be tested or logically demonstrated, they have no place in the sciences. I think Dawkins would agree that Faith is the necessary fruit of presuppositions.
Let’s take a step back and enjoy a small logic lesson. Syllogisms consist of two or more premises and a conclusion. As long as the premises are true and the syllogism is valid, the conclusion must also be true and the entire syllogism is sound. Hooray, and all that jazz! Things get interesting when the truth value of premises comes into question. Most premises are the conclusions of other syllogisms, but in the world of logic, presuppositions are premises that are not the conclusions of other syllogisms. They are foundational. They presuppose certain truths that cannot be “argued to” but are always “argued from.” For example, take the Law of Non-contradiction: nothing can “be” and “not be” at the same time. This is not the conclusion of a syllogism, but trustworthy nonetheless. Now let’s try another syllogistic argument (in the rough):
All rational demonstrations depend on syllogisms.
All syllogisms are rooted in premises that do not follow from other syllogisms.
All premises that do not follow from other syllogisms are presuppositions.
All presuppositions are things that require faith.
All things that require faith are religious statements.
Therefore, all rational demonstrations depend on religious statements!
My definition of Religion is intentionally loose. After all, it results from a loose definition of faith. By this logic, Religion doesn’t even require a God. If Dawkins’ definition of faith is right, all consistent worldviews have religious overtones, even his. Pascal warns against two excesses -- "to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.” Reasonable Reason recognizes its own limitations. Faith is inescapable because the heart has needs that the mind cannot fully satisfy. The heart desires certainty. Reason cannot fashion such a luxury without first accepting certain truths on faith. Thus, faith is intrinsic to logic! The “unprovable” is an indivisible unit of reason, and therefore its foundation.
by Ethan Foster
Originally posted at Animus Crypta.